McLoughlin Take 2: A fun past in reporting sports news
Look, I was just as tickled blue as the next guy to see Eli & Company triumph over the nasty Belichick-Cheaters from the Bay State. But I still experience melancholia, wondering when the Super Bowl gods will look favorably upon my chosen teams: The Galveston Gauchos and the Albuquerque Aces. Did I say the Gauchos and the Aces? Yessiree Bob.
The Gauchos and the Aces came into being in 1984 when the ill-conceived United States Football League still was posing a challenge, of sorts, to the National Football League. Ed O’Brien was doing sports and I was anchoring on Sunday nights at the station for which we used to work. We decided that not a single viewer knew any of the 18 USFL teams except, perhaps, for the New Jersey Generals, the team owned by Donald Trump and headlined by Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker out of Georgia.
So Ed, who works for Channel 6 now, and I invented the Galveston Gauchos and the Albuquerque Aces and, for some reason, those two teams played each other every week. Or, at least, that’s how we reported it. Every Sunday night, we told viewers that the Aces and the Gauchos once again had been involved in an epic struggle that always seemed to come down to the final few minutes, often decided by the Gauchos’ whizbang Eastern European placekicker named Boris Kickwell, whom we also invented.
Not one viewer called or wrote to inquire why these two teams — the Gauchos and the Aces — always played each other and always seemed to be involved in whisker-thin contests decided by a Polish kicker with an improbable name like “Kickwell.” And don’t go telling me that this is because we had no viewers; the ratings services, back then at least, said a lot of people were watching as we reported the Gauchos-Aces outcome.
We regarded it as satire, poking fun at the ignominy and futility that marked the short-lived USFL. However, inventing pro football teams and games no doubt would get you fired today and who knows, maybe with good cause.
But this always has been among my major failings: an inability to render sufficient deference or respect for the World of Sport and for those who inhabit it. It was even worse when I was younger.
For instance, several years before the Gauchos-Aces debacle, I was filling in on sports for several Saturdays running. Meaning, of course, that I had to report the college football results, lots of college football results. So, among all the Syracuses and Notre Dames and Ohio States, I also decided to report the outcome of that week’s game involving Stout State, a real team, not a made-up one. Yep, Stout State, the Blue Devils from Menomonie, Wis., who play Division III ball. I made no snide remarks, no snickers, I just liked the school’s name so I reported the Stout State score for three or four weeks in a row. Finally, a woman sent me a letter, telling me she was an alumna (or is it “alumnus” now that we’re all about correctness?) and telling me — paraphrasing now — that I was an idiot, that she understood full well that I was making fun of her alma mater and I better stop doing it.
But having seen how successful our USFL phantom teams’ gambit could be, O’Brien and I decided to branch out into the wonderful, fun-packed world of bowling. Keep in mind there are what, maybe three to four hundred bowling leagues in the Capital Region? But we picked just one of the several hundred leagues to report on. Now admittedly it was a very good league, the Northern Bowlers of Clifton Park, whose member keglers could sure knock down those pins. But again, just one of 300 or so extant leagues.
Each Sunday night, we would report all of the pertinent info about the Northern Bowlers — high triples, games, most improved bowler, etc. — and every once in a while, if we could, we would send a photographer to the lanes to get footage of our bowling heroes. Again, no viewers ever called, wondering how and why we decided to cover just one of the dozens and dozens of leagues in our area. The Northern Bowlers, as far as we could tell, loved me and Eddie. They invited us to their end-of-season “thing,” which consisted of pizza and beer on a Sunday morning at the lanes. Many thanked us, but one gentleman sidled up to me and said “you know, these guys all think it’s just great, what you’ve been doing, putting us on television all these weeks, but I know that all you’re doing is jerking us around.” As quickly as he sidled up, he sidled away.